Includes Tillie Walden’s A CITY INSIDE, the new BROKEN FRONTIER anthology, David Lapham’s terrifying STRAY BULLETS VOL 5 and Boulet’s autobiographical comedy.
Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve (£16-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Boulet.
Astutely observed and phenomenally funny, expect much self-mockery!
You may be wondering how the above could possibly form part of these autobiographical entries from Boulet’s online blog, and I’m half-tempted to leave you guessing. However, the incensed is Jesus, for the incinerated is the Holy Virgin Mary – or at least a statuette of the same which glowed in the dark, was tipped into a bin and thence onto a garden bonfire.
Talk about childhood trauma!
If I were to summarise the whole it would be in two lines after Boulet’s successive string of humiliations after posing naked for a life-sized portrait for fellow Fine Art student Wilfried in Dijon, when he thinks his embarrassment is finally at an end.
“BUT: Destiny is the cruel cowboy, and you are the naive Mexican.”
He’s finally set free only for Fate, from afar, to take aim with all time in world and shoot him in the back.
It’s this sort of lateral thinking which typifies the daily reports or reveries here which can fly off into all sorts of visual fancy, and it’s exactly this sort of toe-curling “There but for the grace of God go I” which you can relish in the privacy of your own home while chuckling in the knowledge that Paris-based Boulet found it within himself to publish them on the worldwide web first.
At which point I should point out that all art here is taken from the website. It’s been reformatted and verbally tweaked for publication.
The stories in this volume in a vast variety of full-colour treatments are from 2004 to 2005, interspersed with black and white postscripts or analyses adding further embellishments, retrospective context and balms to avoid potential litigation or diffuse angry feedback. How could you possibly be irate with someone so charming?
Incidentally these crisply delineated and comparatively svelte inserts make a feature of Boulet’s strikingly carrot-coloured mop of hair, turning it into an instantly recognisable trademark. If he used the same process as the blog entries then they too were drawn straight onto paper in ink – no pencils – which give them both eras’ pages a vibrancy which immediately put me in mind of Dan Berry, his THROW AWAY YOUR KEYS in particular.
Other comparison points for the general tone include the more episodic recollections from Eddie Campbell’s ALEC; Pascal Girard (REUNION, PETTY THEFT), Joe Decie (THE LISTENING AGENT etc), Liz Prince (ALONE FOREVER et al) with more than a hint of Jeffrey Brown’s cartooning shorthand (FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY) behind these sleek, graceful lines.
Basically this: you’re going to be entertained.
Deadlines and money matters are a constant concern here, as they are to so many overworked and financially under-rewarded comicbook creators, and there are two early Man Versus Machine anecdotes which once more made me think of dear Eddie Campbell in – amongst so many other instances – THE FATE OF THE ARTIST.
The first involves Boulet’s battle with computers which as we all know have a habit of dying on us just when we need them the most. It is then that we need computer experts the most, and find ourselves at the mercy of rapacious corporations and their jobs-worth employees. You better pray you didn’t bully those nerds back at school. But Boulet is resourceful and Boulet is resilient. He is tenacious. Also: smug at the counter in sunglasses.
Not so smug or adept is he when it comes to Man Versus Multi-Carriage Machines which should transport you, hitch-free, to your Swiss Comics Festival… so long as you catch them before they set off. Unfortunately Boulet like Campbell is one of the world’s worst travellers, neither adept at catching trains or planes in time. Fail and – although we tend to revere the SNCF from this side of the Channel – it appears to be open-upgrade-surcharge-season and complications like you wouldn’t believe.
Both sets of battles will be revisited many times over, but also the opportunities to make us thoroughly jealous during Festivals in both Switzerland and Korea – specifically Seoul which is six times the size of Paris (who knew?) and where absolutely everything appears to be “an hour away by bus”. In spite of the buckets of booze, Boulet manages to comport himself much better there, is swooned over by teenage school children and delights in accumulating the most highbrow and classy cultural artefacts that the country has to offer. Possibly. In fact much of the comic relief in both Sienne and Sierre comes from his constant companion at comicbook festivals, the seemingly shameless Reno, fearlessly navigating foreign territory – no matter how drunk – populated by his fellow Festival-going and most esteemed creators, on occasion at night in nothing more than his Speedos.
More seriously, we tend to assume in England and American that everything is all love and light when it comes to BD in France, individualistic creators receiving both the recognition and the consequent rewards they so justly deserve, but there is a truly upsetting account of one year at Angoulême where the more serious and significant signals are drowned out by the crass noise of L5 promoting their godawful comicbook, their queue obliterating cartoonist Juju from view. With Boulet in anthropomorphic mode, this isn’t the end of such similar travesties where fame triumphs over talent. It is to weep.
What else is on offer? Post-Festival come-downs, late-night parties, flat-sharing, cookery, Christmas lights, the curiously conductive properties of Cambert, demonstrations, a little score-settling and a missed opportunity on Valentine’s day which ticked a recognition box for me also – in Paris too!
‘How To Avoid Having Sex’ comes with a killer phone-centric punchline you might want to take note of lest you be caught out as well, while you may more happily connect with the French maestro rediscovering his childhood in the form of classic Amstrad games, Jet Set Willy, Pyjamarama, Fruity Frank and Boulderdash.
Throughout Boulet experiments both in terms of narrative and style, and there’s a double-page spread of ‘Grimaces’ with more rounded forms and expressions which put me in mind of animator Nick Park.
To say that the man’s body-conscious would be misleading – he’s more body-comfortable – and there’s an anti-Charles-Atlas advert promoting a less threatening physique and a cuddlier tum which had me giggling away. But he’s certainly in complete command of the human form, presenting page after page of beautiful, beautiful figure drawing with limbs that flap, flop and hang just-so, articulating in all the right directions, at all the right angles.
Come December this will still rank as one of my favourite books of the year for sheer expressive exuberance as Boulet battles through whatever life throws at him, tears of frustration, terror, self-pity or exhaustion never far from his eyes, cheeks or brow.
Top tip: should you ever want to terrify him at a signing – simply say with a French accent, and preferably while his head’s down in concentration – “Pour Louis…”
That should do it.
Top tip two: Boulet is a Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival which takes place every year during October in Kendal. At some point or another he’ll be signing. Do not say I sent you.
A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden.
I’ve just found another, with a sense of perspective which no one of Tillie’s relatively tender years should possess. I’m three decades down her timeline and recognised the truth here, finding myself standing at one of the key crossroads in this graphic novella.
Told in the second person singular, a young woman casts her mind across her life. It’s so engrossing, so cleverly done that you won’t notice the switch in tenses the first time around, and as it concludes you’ll have forgotten where you came in so that the final three pages are truly startling.
The lines are crisp, the shadows deep and the night sky positively glows.
There’s always something truly magical in Walden’s work and at one point, as the pull quote suggests, the woman finds herself suspended in the sky, living in the cup of a hollow sphere, from the top of which billow curtains which are never truly closed. Can you imagine the view? Can you imagine the tranquillity, reading and writing and sleeping with your supine cat?
“Then one day, you met her.”
Cycling through the sky.
“She was beautiful, wasn’t she?”
Only once is there more than a single sentence per panel – quite often there is silence – and within the recollection itself those panels are bordered only by what lies within.
High in the sky, with the wind tossing the lanterns and tousling her hair, there are no borders at all.
Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd.
There’s one more line, and I love it.
From ‘The Lines’ by Owen D. Pomery of BETWEEN THE BILLBOARDS etc.
Top-notch A5 anthology published by Broken Frontier whose website, ringleader Andy Oliver and his equally eloquent cohorts continue to scout out and promote to the heavens the very best emerging British talent, nurturing it as they do so. Truly they are custodians.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the flexible theme is breaking frontiers, be they physical, metaphorical or even metaphysical boundaries. Lord knows but we love to escape, and some are in more need than others.
Others, of course, delight in imposing strictures and Jess Milton’s ‘The Young Marquis De Sade’ finds the rebellious young man’s family attempting to put the fear of God into him through the firm hand of a Christian education. He does learn his lesson but it isn’t the one they intended!
Delightfully stylish lines, faces and palette which put me in mind of Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYV which is not remotely inapposite, and I loved the way in which the strict and sedentary composition in class yields upon awakening to something much more turbulent and so thrilling. Not just for the reader, either…
Sticking to the subject of all things edifying, anyone who’s read Gareth Brookes’ THE BLACK PROJECT already knows how naughty he is, wrestling humour into the most macabre and head-shakingly embarrassing constructs then sewing it up so seamlessly you cannot help but laugh, wide-eyed and as quietly as possible lest someone – particularly a Higher Authority – overhear you.
So it is with ‘Dead Things’, the first dead thing being a brother and sister’s grandmother. Their mother impresses upon them the benefits of a Christian burial, after which they take the lesson learned into their garden.
“When we went outside to play we found some dead animals.
“A bee, an ant, and a worm and we gave them Christian funeral.
“But after a while we ran out of dead things.”
That last line and the silent panels on either side of it constitute perfect sequential-art storytelling, the penultimate paragraph is the sort of the thing that will make you sneeze whatever you’re drinking through your nose, and the story ends with an ellipsis so innocent yet ominous that I couldn’t help but cackle.
BUTTERTUBS’ Donya Todd was never going to behave, but if you thought she might (because her art is every so pretty and… yeah) then this early exchange between a couple is a delicious reminder of why we all love her:
“I like your dog.”
“I like your skull.”
She’s not carrying one.
Refusing to conform too – or being told what she can’t do – is Adam Vian’s fortune teller who demands a window on her world so that she can at least see what lies beyond. The Mapmaker refuses, declares it impossible – that she can’t change a world with drawing or pen. Well, we all know you can – my world’s been changed by both. Before she makes her exit, however, she has this exchange with a customer following her previous prediction:
“”You’ll meet a beautiful maiden across the ocean.” Wow. Generous. So… you crossed the ocean already?”
“Don’t be silly. Of course not.”
You can’t just sit on your arse waiting for your future to come to you.
Two other escapees are Rozi Hathaway’s young protagonist in ‘Afloat’ and Alice Urbino’s ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, but what they are escaping is very different: abject poverty and loneliness; the sensory overload of society’s non-stop judgementalism.
The former is a deeply melancholic affair of isolation, neglect, broken windows and threadbare socks until a vision floods onto the page in oceanic colours which are fresher, more healthy and hopeful. What actually happens is open to interpretation but if there’s a whiff of mortality is still as wondrous and magical as a Studio Ghibli or Tillie Walden affair, with the child’s own origami taking on a life it its own and attracting company to boot.
There’s such a lot more to explore including an oh so satisfying page from THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BEING OUTSIDE’s Gill Hatcher whose nest of bunched-up baby birds debate the pros and cons of flying the coop as full-fledged independent individuals. The colourful birds, the black and white nest and the eaves it’s built under form their own free-floating panels from which speech balloons emanate in perfect union.
Lastly, for now, the collection is closed by Rebecca Bagley’s ‘Catch’ in deep, rich and pale violets blazing with golden dreams of far more fecund fishing trips than those a child’s father manages to secure in order to feed his family. The landscapes looked down on at night from a three-quarter angle are things of wonder, lit by stars, a full moon, its light caught by clouds and a glow from the home on the hill’s windows.
Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley…
Cue the mother of bride coming to the rescue by whipping the dead rodent out of the way with her bare hands just in time, much to the awestruck admiration of the bride-to-be! Haha, there is no way in the world my mother-in-law would have done that! This is easily my favourite Knisley work yet, packed with self-deprecating humour relating to the sheer insanity of deciding to plan and execute her own beautifully bespoke and intimately personal wedding down to the most minute detail. Still, it’s probably put her off ever doing it again so there’s one good reason not to get divorced…
It’s been fascinating to see her improve from book to book in recent years, both in terms of her storytelling and art. I had sometimes felt with her works, increasingly less so, that we were being presented with set pieces and situations rather than a continuous narrative flow, as though perhaps she was working with a paucity of material at times or a touch uncertain how to seamlessly stitch it together. I certainly didn’t get that impression remotely here, this felt like a work of real depth and punch and flowed gloriously from cover to cover. I hope that’s not perceived as a being too critical of her previous works: RADIATOR DAYS, FRENCH MILK, RELISH – MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN, AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE and DISPLACEMENT, because I am big fan. It’s just lovely to see the ongoing progression.
After giving new readers a quick recap of her and John’s chequered relationship background (see mainly AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE) she goes on to perfectly capture the emotional rollercoaster of the extended lead up to the nuptials and the big day itself. She shares the many laughs and more than a few tears she experienced whilst gradually realising the full, dawning horror of just how much is involved with planning your own wedding. You will chuckle, particularly if you’ve been through such torment yourself, just as I also did with Adrian Tomine’s SCENES FROM AN IMPENDING MARRIAGE.
As mentioned, I feel this work is also a big step on for her again art-wise too. I have commented before on her at times sparse style, pages with just characters on, no backgrounds for example. There is far less of that here, with much more in the way of traditional panels and fully fleshed out scenes, and it really helps with the sense of continuity to the overall story. Where we do have the type of page I’m talking about, it’s done much more as an occasional punctuation, usually with some amusing visual gag involving wedding paraphernalia.
So, what next for Miss Knisley? Assuming she keeps her maiden name for comics, that is! Well, now she’s pretty much caught up chronologically with regaling us with the trials and tribulations of her life, I would dearly love to see her take a crack at some fictional material next. Yes, it might be a stretch for someone who, as she freely admits, sees herself as autobiographical comics maker, but on the basis of this work, I’m sure she’d succeed admirably. Failing that, there’s always a potential career as a wedding planning to fall back on.
Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham.
For some inexplicable reason you’re back at school. Having escaped its horrors years ago, you’ve returned to the grounds as a pupil and they’re at once all too familiar yet disconcertingly alien. You hardly know anyone anymore and you’re not quite sure where everything is and what’s changed.
The warring cliques and back-stabbing rat race certainly hasn’t.
Virginia Applejack ran away from her horrendous home years ago in STRAY BULLETS and if you’d forgotten why, a single encounter with her malicious mother will remind you instantly. Fortunately her years of freedom – in spite of the atrocities she has witnessed and endured – have given her a sense of distance which will stand her in sanity-saving stead and a capacity for take-no-shit violence which will make anyone standing in her way today rue it something rotten.
But first, one friendly face in the form of Leon, who’s just got the crap kicked out of him yet again.
“I’m in the duck-and-cover group. We’re like the CIA – we hang together, but if one of us gets caught the others disavow their existence.
“The jocks are probably, like, the biggest assholes, and the most powerful. The burnouts really suck, too. Their leader is Jesse Barret. I wish him dead every Sunday in church.”
The jocks and the burnouts have grown complacent. They’ve begun to imagine themselves invulnerable, immune even to each other’s threats. But Virginia Applejack will prove an unexpected, incendiary new ingredient in their midst.
“Hey, kid. Ginny!”
“It’s your turn to bat.”
It most certainly is.
I can promise you a great deal of catharsis, but also fear in the form of another wild card, Mike Hussey, and this volume includes that chapter. The chapter which had both Mark and myself wide-eyed a decade ago that Lapham would even go there: a consensual sexual experiment between two teenagers with catastrophic results both for their friendship and for anyone encountering Mike Hussey ever again. Whatever you’re thinking, David Lapham will up the stakes then and thereafter, leaving you cowering away in the corner, wincing.
Based on an eight-panel grid, the storytelling could not be more accessible to newcomers to comics, and its clarity is matched by his attention to detail. His portraits are extraordinarily vivid and individualistic given his economy of line. A single panel of a crowded party can contain more characterisation than you’d believe possible or is remotely necessary. There’s also an intense physicality to the forms. I sat staring at several jaw bones for ages, marvelling at the skull I can could see and almost touch beneath the skin – or rather the contoured line demarking that skin!
Critics harp on about the complexity of Alan Moore’s best plot structures – and rightly so – but it is frankly insane how intricately mapped all the confluent elements are in the whole of STRAY BULLETS and even within this single, stand-alone strand. Ha! I’ve just called a whopping, eleven-chapter chunk “a strand”, but that’s how epic this project is. All of it is connected, skipping backwards and forwards in time – which is how Lapham manages to mine more from characters with a lot of life left in them even after biting the dust yonks ago – but here it’s particularly clear how cleverly cause and effect plays its awful part in every element which builds towards crescendo after crescendo. If there’s a life lesson to be learned here it’s that you reap what you sow: it’s going to come back to bite you in the ass or in the ass of someone you care for.
And that’s another thing: after everything she’s gone through, Virginia Applejack still cares. So does poor Leon. If nobody cares then nor will you. Everyone else is repugnant.
For far more on Lapham’s actual craft, please see my previous reviews, particularly of the STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES edition of which this contains the final eleven issues, otherwise it’s just me repeating myself.
This collection now fills the one remaining gap in the individual STRAY BULLETS softcovers, meaning you can go straight on to STRAY BULLETS VOL 6: THE KILLERS, which was the first in the new series launched the other year.
This is the only crime I rank as highly as Brubaker’s and Phillips’.
Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla.
A lovely little number for all ages which should appeal to fantasy-loving families including fans of Jeff Smith’s BONE, this is light on text for those whom it frightens.
Not-very-old ones can marvel instead at the beautiful designs like the huge, all-encompassing head-dresses and masks – even the beasts bear masks! – as well as the sheer spectacle of a fellow, spirited youngster who will not be daunted nor nay-said in spite of being tiny, clumsy and a foundling outsider.
Its scope is potentially enormous and I would be far from surprised to discover in a decade’s time that this was but a prologue. Which is to say that this first instalment comes with many more questions than answers.
Ripe with legend and lore, it tells of the Rook Men’s animosity towards light and so love of a “halfway beast” which stole it from the world, hid it in a whelk shell then swallowed that whole.
Without the sun’s life-giving rays the tribes of the two rivers found themselves hard-pressed to forage and hunt in a perpetual winter and ousted from the forest they’d once made their home. Fortunately they had a champion in the form of Mali Mani who had defeated the monster with a bell and sword, but was swallowed by the forest and kept incarcerated there by the Rook Men.
So it’s still pretty cold.
Tomorrow our tiny Bali should be embarking on The Smokewalk, his adoptive River Tribe’s rite of passage, but his centre of gravity is considered too low to even lift a spear let alone throw it accurately. Lakasi has a point there. But Bali sets off anyway late at night and of his own accord in search of an ancient ruin discovered earlier by accident in that same deep wood. And in doing so, he may be beginning his journey anyway…
Some small parts of the storytelling I found it difficult to discern – in a largely wordless comic you need maximum clarity – but I’ll put it down to Bali being caught in the heat of the chaotic moments, all of which were still beautiful to behold. Young minds are more dextrous than mine anyway, and will move swiftly, eagerly on, relishing Bali’s fortitude and resourcefulness and refusal to back down or give in when danger rears its multiple clawing, scratching and intimidating heads. Also, I know from experience that I’m no more competent with a javelin, either.
The pictorial wall paintings and pillar engravings are glorious, as was the elaborately ornamented fireplace. Look around carefully and you may notice a small entrance slashed at by much bigger claws sharp enough to make their carved mark on stone. Visually this world is very well built.
Plus there was an element of Playstation’s Shadow Of The Colossus in one particular encounter and Disney’s Fantasia in another sequence.
HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola’s a fan.
Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark.
One of my favourite current comicbooks, this edition collects the third and fourth LAZARUS softcovers along with all the original issues’ full-page advertisements from the fictional world itself.
Of LAZARUS VOL 3: CONCLAVE, I wrote:
“The weather’s turning. It looks like a storm.”
“Is that why you’re nervous?”
“There’s talk that your Family will go back to Hock.”
“It will not happen.”
“I would very much like to kiss you. Would you permit me to kiss you, Forever?”
A rare moment of tenderness, that, for the Carlyle family’s youngest daughter, its military commander and pre-eminent soldier, assassin and bodyguard. That’s what being a Lazarus entails.
If Forever is formal it is because however effective she is in the field, her duties have deprived her of any emotional experience she might call her own. If she is nervous it is because she is finally allowing herself to have the first tentative steps of one with Joacquim Morray, Lazarus of the Morray family which may currently be allied to the Family Carlyle but which looks very likely to switch sides to the Carlyles’ most manipulative and bitter competition, Jakob Hock.
Then it won’t matter how respectful Joacquim is or how much Forever’s heart hurts: if their Families demand they fight, they will do so, if necessary to the death. That hasn’t happened yet but something so similar between others does, and it is heartbreaking.
It wouldn’t be half so affecting if GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark couldn’t convey intimate and vulnerable affection as well as he commands the fluid balletics of hand-to-hand combat. Lark is equally adept at an actual dance, the other rare moment of tenderness preceding this scene which Jakob Hock – with his flair for the dramatic, the cruel and humiliating – interrupts to devastating effect.
Oh, and the environment: Lark is one of my favourite landscape artists. His rain I rate up there with Eisner.
LAZARUS is set in the not-too-far future when the world has gone feudal again. Democracies have imploded, politicians no longer exist and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys people, money buys technology and money buys guns. Money, technology and guns buy power and control.
The strategy Greg Rucka has employed to introduce this grave new world to its readers has been impeccable: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure – the bottom-heavy pyramid of Family at the top, its wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs useful to Family prosperity, then the vast majority deemed and so dismissed as “waste” underneath. This third volume widens its outlook to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. See? Technology does buy power. You’d surely shift your allegiances for such a boon.
And that’s what this instalment’s about: loyalty and allegiances. During a Conclave hosted by the British Family Armitage on a luxury rig in the North Sea you’ll get to meet twelve of the sixteen Families – or at least their representatives – and by golly their current conflicts form a complex Cat’s Cradle!
But what I relished above all in this chapter was seeing the Lazari interact with each other in their downtime before, during and after a poker game while their heads of Family debate without their feared presence behind closed doors. For if this is a reversion to a feudal society, so the notion of Chivalry has returned too: specifically the etiquette of safe passage and the respect of knights for each other and conduct towards each other regardless of their masters’ aggravations.
This is evidently something that needs to be learned for there is a new Lazarus in their midst, one Captain Cristof Mueller who is arrogant and Aryan in a Teutonic way and he doesn’t care much for Li Jaolong, Lazarus of the Chinese Family Li, whose skills as a bodyguard he deems slim given that Li is – much like Professor Stephen Hawking – confined to a wheelchair and communicating via a speech synthesizer. Bristling from having been successfully played at poker, Mueller doesn’t mince his words which may include “genetic mistake”.
Yeah. Perhaps he should have considered that Jaolong wouldn’t have been selected as a Lazarus if he didn’t have certain compensatory skills. Cristof’s comeuppance is cathartic, I promise you!
Loyalties, then: Forever’s is to her family above and beyond all. LAZARUS VOL 2 ensured we understood both how and why. But is that loyalty reciprocated?
While we find out I return you to our opening feature and kiss:
“I hope… I hope that was all right.”
“I was afraid…. I was afraid I would take of metal and oil.”
“That is not how you taste. Did I do it right?”
“Oh, yes. Very well indeed.
“You’re my first kiss.”
“And second. May I be your third?”
“Joacquim. I may not want to stop.”
“I may not want you to.”
Of LAZARUS VOL 4: POISON, this:
“I looked on him and I was not assured. I looked on him, and I was afraid.”
That’s Sister Bernard gazing up in contemplation at a dilapidated statue of Saint Christopher in a derelict cathedral in Havana. He’s not just the patron saint of travellers, but of soldiers too: “A patron of holy death.”
There will plenty of travelling, a great many soldiers and blistering fire-fights in the most freezing conditions because Family Carlyle is about to go to war.
Before that, however, we must walk hundreds of miles in Sister Bernard’s pinching shoes. Nuns are given a degree of leeway by some Families to practise their faith and perform acts of medical charity for those without means – and most have no means – which involves travelling, In exchange for funding, Family Carlyle requests occasional favours from Sister Bernard whose mobility between borders makes her the perfect if petrified spy. She’s had no training and feels she has no aptitude – all she has is her faith, which here is tested to breaking point.
Previously in LAZARUS:
In the not-too far future the world’s economies imploded, its political systems collapsed and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys technology, money buys guns and money buys people, which together buy power.
It is a feudal system, an archetypal, bottom-heavy pyramid with Family at the top, a wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs selected for their key skills below, then underneath the vast majority dismissed as “waste”.
Family Carlyle has invested heavily in augmentation technology, bestowing it on youngest daughter Forever who now acts as their ultimate bodyguard, military commander and assassin. She’s been genetically enhanced with regenerative capabilities, trained to the peak of human physical fitness in both armed and unarmed combat and has been indoctrinated to believe that there is only one law: “Family Above All.”
The structure which Greg Rucka’s employed to introduce this grave new world has been impeccable, and it too has been a broadening pyramid: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure and the means by which waste might elevate themselves to serfdom; LAZARUS VOL 3 widened its outlook yet again to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob of Family Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. We met many more Families, each with their own Lazarus / bodyguard, and a play was made which ensured that war was inevitable.
And now… for the shooty bits.
Michael Lark’s landscapes are phenomenal, and the characters could not be more grounded in their landscapes. That’s vital for depicting urban warfare with its geographical opportunities and obstacles; its cover, its exposure and its range. In addition, he has a complete command of weather conditions – in this case a blizzard of snow – and an eye for carefully judged detail so that readers get a tangible sense of what the terrain feels like and what can and cannot be seen by individuals on the ground. That’s vital for immersion: targets and troop movements cannot be nebulous if you want readers’ blood pressure to rocket alongside the protagonists’.
The key is in making you care and Rucka is equally adept at making it personal. Forever Carlyle has of course been deployed while the rest of the family desperately struggle with their own problems back at base. But she’s made some discoveries recently causing her to make a decision which could put everything and everyone in jeopardy, not least herself.
Speaking of revelations, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so shocked by a final page. It’s no deus ex machina, but proof of an audacious authorial slight-of-hand much earlier on which was so cleverly played by both writer and artist that I know of nobody who saw this one coming.
“Family Above All.”
Archangel #1 (£3-99, IDW) by William Gibson & Butch Guice…
“Mr. Vice President, please remain still… as I remove the bandages. The final procedure was entirely successful. See for yourself.”
“Granddaddy was a good looking man.”
“They know nothing of D.N.A., so they’ll have no way of knowing you’re not him. You should have no difficulties assuming his identity.”
So why would the Vice President of the United States of America want to travel back in time to February 1945 and replace his relative, one Major Aloysius Henderson of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the C.I.A? Well, given it seems like there has been some sort of catastrophic global nuclear conflict, judging from the scenes of total devastation in Tokyo, Moscow and London that we get a glimpse of on the opening page dated February 2016, I suspect altering the course of history might be high on the VP’s to-do list. A list entitled ‘Archangel’.
Not that it seems everyone on the experimental Quantum Transfer project is of the same mindset. The chief scientist Torres, who seems to have a pretty good idea of precisely who is to blame for the current highly radioactive state of the environment, has just enough remaining quantum transfer juice to send a stealth fighter and two marines back as well, to try and foil the VP’s plot. Except whilst the first time jump works perfectly, the second, well, let’s just say there are some unexpected complications. The action then shifts to 1945 where the various Allied intelligence services find themselves with a rather perplexing puzzle to solve.
Fantastic opener from the acclaimed cyberpunk author, I’m certainly very intrigued. This has the serious speculative feel of say, Greg Rucka’s LAZARUS, which I think from the tone of the writing and cast of characters is probably the most obvious comparison to make. There are some great bits of dialogue too, particularly in the WW2 era between various spies who seem just as concerned with getting one over each other as dealing with the situation in hand, which also minded me of Brubaker’s VELVET. Gibson can certainly write comics, I have to say, based on this first issue.
The art from Butch Guice is excellent, fans of his work on THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA and WINTER SOLDIER will know what to expect. I always feel he’s like a slightly grittier version of Bryan Hitch though here he most reminds me of Michael Lark’s work on LAZARUS, actually.
[Editor’s interference: So true! Wait until you see the opening page’s bomb-blasted buildings. Combined with Tom Palmer’s as ever extraordinary inks, the textures are absolutely Lark. This series gets a triple thumbs-up from me, but then I was never too brilliant at biology. Gibson introduces a great many process pieces in the back, with gorgeous Guice character sketches.]
Unfollow vol 1 (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera…
“It’s okay Rees, I removed your name from the 140.”
“Okay! You got me! You caught me, all right! I added myself to the 140 list… But you need me, Rubenstein. I programmed the app. You need me… You… Oh Christ… You’re going to do it, aren’t you?”
“One hundred forty characters. Now it can begin.”
Larry Ferrel is rich. Very rich. To the tune of 17 billion dollars, made through building social media platforms. He is also dying of pancreatic cancer. Which is why he has decided to donate his money. All of it. To 140 lucky people. That’s 120 million dollars each… I should probably add for the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, 140 is the number of characters that a single tweet can contain, presumably explaining the conceit of the title.
But given it all starts with the execution of one of Larry’s loyal – well, not-so-loyal, actually – employees, by his gun-toting right-hand man Rubenstein, wearing an Aztec priest’s golden mask, the 120 million dollars is, one would suspect, going to come with a few strings attached. Such as possibly not living long enough to spend it.
And indeed once the 140 are all flown to Ferrel’s tropical island by a fleet of private jets the first catch rapidly starts to become painfully clear…
“You have all received an app on your phones and computers. It states the number of you left alive, currently 139…
“If the number shrinks to, say 138, your app will register this… your share will increase.
“And hypothetically, of course, were only one of you to be left alive, that individual would receive all of my money.
“In such a hypothetical scenario, that lone survivor would receive 18.42 billion dollars.
“All he would have to do is kill 138 people.
“But it’s not as if any of you would be willing to do that.
So, I initially thought, we were going to be in very familiar Battle Royale-style territory, and indeed we are to a degree, especially given Ferrel’s stipulation that once he’s passed on to the great unknown and his loot been divvied up, if one of the 140 dies their money will be automatically returned to Ferrel’s estate and shared out again amongst the remaining survivors. At least that’s what Rubenstein says Ferrel wants… I can’t help getting a strong sense he might have his own deranged agenda going on, though. I mean, anyone wondering around in a terrifying shiny mask waving a weapon around is probably up to no good. But there’s a lot, lot more happening as well, such as the appearance of talking animal spirits to at least two of the ‘winners’. Quite how that factors in is, at this point, a complete mystery.
Then there’s the fact that the 140 don’t seem to be have been picked entirely at random, if at all. For example there’s a cross-dressing, blade-prosthetic-wearing, facially tattooed Japanese author who has noticed there are startling similarities between the plot of one of his novels and their current predicament. When he challenges Ferrel on this and receives acknowledgement that indeed he took inspiration from the book, it provokes the author to tell Ferrel he will do everything in his power to ensure the actual ending of the book doesn’t happen. Ominous.
My personal favourite, though, is the heavily armed former special forces solider who believes God is speaking to him and the Dragon who needs to be combated is everywhere. And indeed the final issue of this arc is mainly a flashback concerning his chequered history. The phrase wild card certainly springs to mind! This issue was an interesting change of pace and I suspect will be repeated from time to time with different characters. So by the end of this first volume we’ve probably only really been properly introduced to four or five of the 140, and we haven’t, ahem, lost too many yet. Just as well because I’m really enjoying this and I’d like it to run to several volumes! I can also see exactly why it was almost immediately picked up for a television show.
Art-wise, I can see some hints of Frank Quitely in Michael Dowling’s work, but the person I am mostly strongly minded of is Arthur MAZEWORLD (and sadly currently out of print BUTTONMAN) Ranson. It’s in the black linework, particularly the faces. Great opening volume, and this is exactly the high quality material Vertigo need to get back to putting out consistently if they want to seriously compete with the likes of Image.
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.
Incomplete Works (£14-99, Alternative Comics) by Dylan Horrocks
Disquiet s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Ethan Van Sciver
Watching (£13-99, Soaring Penguin) by Winston Rowntree
Club Life In Moomin Valley (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson
Adam Sarlech Trilogy h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Frederic Bezian
Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook
They’re Not Like Us vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Eric Stephenson & Simon Gane
Black Science vol 4: Godworld s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera
Wayward vol 3: Out From The Shadows (£12-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings
Octopus Pie vol 4 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran
Daredevil Vs Punisher: Means And Ends s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by David Lapham
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Ryan North, Chip Zdarsky & Erica Henderson
Crossed vol 16 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Max Bemis & Fernando Melek, German Erramouse, Mauro Vargas
Silver Surfer vol 1: New Dawn s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Michael Allred
Rick And Morty vol 2 (£14-99, Oni) by Zac Gorman, Marc Ellerby & CJ Cannon & Andrew Maclean
Steven Universe vol 2 (£14-99, Kaboom) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle
Superman Adventures vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott McCloud, Mark Millar, others & various
Batgirl vol 2: Family Business s/c (£12-99, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher & Babs Tarr, Bengal
Birthright vol 3: Allies s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan
Birthright vol 1: Call To Adventure s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan
Birthright vol 2: Homecoming s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan
I have a copy of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival limited edition of the graphic novel and it is glorious!
If you want a copy of that limited edition (only 300 copies printed), as things stand, you will have to be in Kendal, Cumbria, this weekend. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for the regular edition from Dark Horse which will launched at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, October 14-16 2016.
What? Do you think I’m holding out on you? That’s the only way to guarantee yourself a copy!
But look, you can get it signed! For free!
There will, possibly, be a rather fun and most certainly exclusive news update on this graphic novel this time next week, right here.
So maybe I am holding out on you.